My arrival in Chiang Mai was anything but perfect. Arriving by overnight train from Bangkok, I had to deal with what is probably Thailand's most rudest hostel staff and a dysfunctional booking service. The recently installed curfew did not help to brighten my mood. Military checkpoints were installed on every second street corner and soldiers closed down bars and restaurants as early as 11pm. The city was unusually deserted as I was told by several locals. Tourism had dropped significantly and local businesses were struggling. Not a good start…
Fortunately, Chiang Mai has a lot of activities outside of town that made the days fly by.
Spicing it up
On my second day I was able to cross off a major item on my bucket list: take a cooking class. At Thai Orchid Cookery School, A and her husband introduced us to the secrets of Thai cuisine. After a visit to the market, we started off with chicken satay and peanut sauce…one of my favorites! We continued in the classroom with the preparation of spicy (or not so spicy) soups. I then chose Panang curry and Pad Thai as main dishes. They were both surprisingly easy to cook once all the ingredients were ready. Although all of us were already quite full at that point, we still managed to create (and eat) a delicious mango sticky rice dessert.
Price: 1.200 Baht
The eye of the Tiger
Getting thrown into a cage with three grown up tigers? Yes, please sign me up! Tiger Kingdom, 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai, gives you this unique experience. I got the package with three types of tigers: SMALLEST (1- 4 months), SMALL (1 – 2 years) and BIGGEST. Although it was only supposed to be 3 x 15min, I spent nearly an hour with all of the animals. While the cubs are very playful, the parents just tend to sleep in the afternoon. Great opportunity to take a quick nap together…you don't want those huge kitties to be too active anyway! Some critics argue that the animals are drugged for tourism purposes, Tiger Kingdom, however, guarantees that all animals on display are treated ethically.
Price: 400-1500 Baht
A safe home for rescued elephants
There are as many elephant camps around Chiang Mai as there are temples in Thailand. Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for abused and injured elephants. It is located in a beautiful and remote valley, 60km from Chiang Mai. Many of the elephants here are blind or have stepped on landmines, so you are not allowed to ride them.
Nevertheless this turned out to be one of my best experiences in Asia. You get to spent a lot of time with the different elephant families throughout the day, feeding them, or taking a bath in the river. Lek, the founder of the camp, is constantly asked to take in new animals, so their need for funding is quite high. For people that want to help even more, they offer a very interesting 1-week volunteer program for around 300$.
Price: 2500 Baht